Building the house

I well remember the day when the truck came with the bricks so that Dad could start the main house. It was a blue truck with the bricks neatly stacked, leaning inwards, but otherwise loose on the truck. Dad showed them where he wanted them stacked and I watched fascinated at these two guys unloading and stacking those bricks. They’d start a row with two bricks laid longitudinally with one end jacked up on another brick laid across. Then they’d lay down a layer of bricks laid across and finish the row the same way as it was begun. Once they had that set up the two of them took off and worked like troopers getting bricks up off the truck and stacking them. They built the stack up to about four feet high and then started another row. They ended up with with four rows of bricks about four feet high and maybe twenty feet long. In no time flat they were finished and the truck was driving away and we kids were climbing on the brick stack. We continued to play on that stack for years as it gradually reduced.

The beginning was digging the foundations. No concrete slabs in those days. Just a pattern of ditches built into the sand. If you’ve seen the movie They’re a weird mob you will have a good picture of the type of construction. It was good that the soil was sandy because it made digging a lot easier. It was just pick and shovel all the way. Then came the bricklaying. And mixing the cement. Nothing as sophisticated as a cement mixer. Not only couldn’t we afford anything like that but we had no electricity connected anyway. So Dad got a sheet of flat tin. Onto it he put the right proportions of sand and cement and mixed it dry. Then he formed that into a circle and tipped water from a bucket into the hollow in the middle. He then went round the circle with the shovel and gradually shovelled all the sand / cement mix into the water. He kept on mixing and adding water until he had a nice mixture of wet cement at just the right consistency. Dad might not have had trade skills but he knew how to solve problems, and he was always willing to have a go.

Dad wasn’t too familiar with chalklines and spirit levels. He just started laying bricks at one corner and kept going until he got right around the house and back at that corner. This works well for a while, but unless you keep a check on things it only takes a bit of variation in each course of bricks for quite a substantial error to creep in by the time the wall is finished. I reckon he was about one brick out by the time he finished. Which wasn’t a problem for the house. He lined the roof beams up by chocking them until they lined up perfectly. Mum tells us that it was a very sturdy place. This is borne out by the fact that the house still stands today, more than fifty years later, and it has several extensions on it.

The first room finished was the kitchen. Dad had filled the floor area with builders’ rubble, pieces of brick and concrete, and sand. When he had compacted it as best he could he put a layer of concrete over the top. It worked well through the whole house. The reason for the need for fill was that Dad had raised the floor area of the house because of the low lying nature of the property. The kitchen had iron window frames, iron door frames, and a very basic cupboard with a single sink. You may remember the Masonite kitchen sink cupboards from the 50s. It was one of them. And, which was a wonder to us kids, a tap over the sink. Running water inside the house. That was pretty neat! But still no electricity.

© Copyright Willem Schultink